POP GOES THE WEASEL

Usage and ab-usage in the language of contemporary Anglicanism

In order to preserve some semblance of unity in a loose association of churches which was once united by mutually accepted and interchangeable orders but is no longer, the Archbishop of Canterbury set up a Commission on 'Communion and Women in the Episcopate'.

That Commission, under the chairmanship of Robin Eames, the genial Archbishop of Armagh (who could, in consequence, be' thought to have a nodding acquaintance with the difficulties of reconciling warring factions) produced a peace formula based on the notion of 'a period of reception' and the acknowledgement by all parties that the new orders which some of the churches had invented had 'a degree of provisionality'. On these grounds there was to be a cease-fire, and in the chief areas of belligerency, all-party talks were to be initiated.

Independent observers noted the problems of the proposed settlement from the very beginning. Not least of them was the fact that Eames's own church made perhaps the least generous provision for dissent of any.

The peace process was fragile from the start, but in the hands of the intransigent Bishop of Nova Scotia (Arthur Peters) and the barnstorming suffragan of Washington (Jane Dixon) it was strangled to death. Peters refused ordination to candidates who would not receive Holy Communion from a woman celebrant and Dixon forced her unwelcome attentions on parishes which had legitimately refused her ministry under the Eames Commission proposals.

The chief victim of these developments, of course, was the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, who set up the Commission on the now clearly untenable assumption that he had some sort of moral authority in the so-called Communion. The fact that, despite expensive jaunts to far-flung parts in the vain attempt to enhance his position, he had no authority of any kind when the chips were down, may well have come as a shock even to him. But it is now a major factor in assessing the future coherence of the loose amalgam of the self-willed over which he somewhat tentatively presides.

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